And yet Manson: The Life of Times and Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn is riveting, a thoroughly researched biography that manages to be a breezy page-turner. Even those who've already read extensively about the Manson murders and their aftermath may find new insight into the pint-sized West Virginia-born con man who convinced a bevy of middle-class young women (and a few men) to murder for him.
Among the revelations? Manson studied Scientology. Yep, L.A.'s favorite "religion" also influenced its most notorious mass murderer -- in prison, "Charlie adopted those aspects of [L. Ron] Hubbard's teachings that lent themselves to manipulating others," Guinn reports. "His September 1961 report [by prison officials] noted, 'He appears to have developed a certain amount of insight into his problems through the study of [Scientology]. Manson is making progress for the first time in his life.'"
But Hubbard isn't responsible for Manson turning into Manson. Turn the page to find out 10 chilling new things we learned from Guinn's biography -- including the unlikely book the author credits for transforming Manson into a guru who fooled dozens of kids into following him straight into "Helter Skelter."
10. Manson learned his most effective techniques by studying Dale Carnegie. Carnegie, a salesman, had published How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936, sharing his techniques for convincing others to do what you want. Good information for a salesman, yes, but supremely helpful for a con man.
After stealing a car in Ohio and driving it to L.A., where his mother was living, Manson was sent to prison in San Pedro -- and there he enrolled in a Carnegie course. It changed his life.
"Charlie had always evinced limited reading skills, but in this Carnegie class he proved that he could not only read but fully comprehend printed material if he was sufficiently engaged, and if instructors were helpful enough," Guinn writes. "Virtually every word in the Carnegie publications resonated with Charlie. For the first time in his life he was considered an outstanding pupil." How to Win Friends, Guinn reports, "seemed to formally codify all the ways Charlie had manipulated people since childhood." Acquaintances would later recall Manson using just those techniques on the young women in his "family."
9. In Manson's previous life, he was a square. Manson is associated strongly with '60s counterculture -- after all, he found his calling on Haight-Ashbury, painted himself as a guru to the young women he recruited, and kept them tripping on acid and sexually pliant (free love, don't you know?). But as a young man in the '50s, Manson loved Frank Sinatra and, yes, Perry Como. He married a nice girl named Rosalie at 19 and had a baby soon thereafter. And he might have made it work, had Rosalie not left him during his time in prison in San Pedro. He got out in 1967 and, with nowhere to go and only a vague dream of being a pop star, convinced his parole officer he should move to San Francisco. That's where he realized the time's changing morals (and hordes of lost kids) could work for him, and the rest is history.
8. Manson was so controlling, he banned the women who followed him from wearing eyeglasses. In the Haight and by trolling around Los Angeles, Manson picked up a half-dozen women who, over time, became the core of the Manson "family." Nice girls from middle-class homes, these women fell for Manson's manipulation -- using Carnegie's techniques and his own sociopathy, he expertly exploited their daddy issues.
By the time he moved his small commune to Spahn Ranch, an old movie set used to shoot Westerns near Simi Valley, he'd banned books, wristwatches, calendars and clocks. "Eyeglasses weren't allowed either," Guinn writes. "Charlie explained that whatever the state of their vision, that was their natural way to see the world, and only natural things were good. New members were relieved of their glasses immediately; some of them developed permanent squints."
Turn the page for more chilling facts, including which Hollywood star's boyfriend cheated on her with the Manson girls.